Donija Nkhoma Village

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Things to do


Date of travel

September, 2017

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We wanted to learn about Malawian culture, so “Luwawa Forest Lodge”: arranged a visit to the nearby village of Donija Nkhoma.

As soon as we opened the jeep’s doors, we heard drums and saw women singing, swaying and clapping in welcome. We were taken to meet the blind Chief, Vincent, and his two brothers, Franklin and Brave. It was very dark inside the Chief’s hut and it took a while for our eyes to adjust after the strong sunlight. We sat on odd chairs around a rectangular coffee table and after introductions, the Chief told us he would talk about land allocation, death and marriage.

We learned there were three types of land (customary, private and government) and were told that on marriage, the son stays in the village with the Chief allocating land to the couple. We heard about the different Presbyterian, Catholic and heathen marriages and although marriages are not arranged, there is a dowry system involving cattle.

Franklin invited us to see how houses had developed from grass tepees with goat skin mats, through to more solid, circular, structures with mud walls and thatch, and finally to the modern-day buildings of brick with corrugated iron roofs.

We made a ‘voluntary donation’ of $15 per person and saw the two maize mills which donations had funded. Then we were taken down a steep narrow path to their garden with particularly fine crops of Irish potatoes, cabbage and sugar cane. Here was the well, funded by a US religious group, where a woman was pumping water. I tried to lift the full bucket but it was too heavy. The woman hoisted it onto her head and carried it up the steep path (one which made me puff) without outward effort.

We returned to the Chief’s hut for lunch and found the coffee table set with plastic bowls of chicken, beans, spinach and white nsima, maize mixed with boiling water and a staple of the Malawian diet. It was innocuous and bland but we were shown how to roll it into a ball with one hand and then dip it into the vegetables and sauce. Fortified by lunch, we discussed death, which appears to involve a month of mourning, visitors bringing food and cattle and various burial positions.

It was then time for the dancing and chairs were laid out outside on the Chief’s terrace with the dancing taking place below: we felt like the Queen and Prince Philip at the Royal Highland Games although I suspect they’re not invited to contribute small change in a metal bowl. The women were resplendent in their matching blue patterned chitenge (a wrap around long skirt). Three male drummers beat the tune and the dancing and clapping started with all the other villagers watching from the shade. The musicians changed and three men in brightly coloured outfits were the next act followed by a young bare-chested man adorned with feathers.

Dancing over, we were invited to address the village and Roy made a sterling off-the-cuff speech that Franklin translated for everyone. The Chief then addressed everyone in English, telling his people how pleased he’d been to host us (or words to such effect) which again Franklin translated.

Back inside, it was time for afternoon tea and cake, when we gave them a bag of Poundland biros for the local school, which Franklin clung onto with great care. Finally, before leaving, we were invited to sign the visitors book: fortunately, one of the donated pens worked.

As we left everyone gathered and clapped: we waved back regally having had a royal day out.

Helen Jackson

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